Scotland find that running a game isn't just about distance
While it’s unusual for a player to run more than about six or seven kilometres in an average Six Nations game, the top guys in the Scotland side which beat Japan were all up around the 11-kilometre mark with, amazingly, prop WP [Willem] Nel up there towards the top of the list despite coming off with a knee problem for the final quarter.
So on a day when the squad was cut by one when centre Duncan Taylor headed home with a hamstring problem – the emphasis was on how to control the game better.
They will probably do that with Huw Jones, who is already with squad and plays for the Stormers in South Africa, in at centre for his Scotland debut.
The distance-run figures for each player are all part of the digital revolution that has taken over rugby with more statistics than anybody can handle available for analysts, coaches and players to make of what they will.
What the players took from those numbers revealed by the GPS trackers which they wear tucked under their jerseys is proof that the the game was every bit as fast and arduous as they had claimed.
Captain Greig Laidlaw said: “I was up about eleven [kilometres] at the weekend, Hoggy [Stuart Hogg] was near it, Tommy Seymour was 10km and Nel was pretty high as well, around nine km and he came off early.”
Speaking during a break as the squad were put through their main training session of the week in the rain the scrum-half added: “We had previewed the Sunwolves and the way they like to play in the Super Rugby competition.
“Their players cross over into the Japan national side. We knew they were going to play that style of game because it suits them.
“It has been a long season for everybody. We played Japan pretty much a year ago in the World Cup and here we are still going.
“We are not going to take our eye of the ball now. We have also been clever in the way we have trained. We have not overdone it – it is hot here. That is part of the challenge.
“We have to be wary looking ahead. You could see how quickly they scored a try against us. It was quick fire, bang, seven points on the board before we even blinked.
“We have to be very wary of that coming into the next game.”
The fact was that Japan were determined to keep the ball moving as fast and as far as possible. They ran every free kick, a high percentage of their penalties and every ball which went into touch but not into the stands.
They obviously reckoned they could run the legs off the Scots in the humidity and heat.
In the end, it did not work out for them but in Tokyo for the second test with Akihito, the Emperor of Japan, watching them for the first time, the Brave Blossoms can be expected to raise the pace even higher despite the heavy drizzle forecast for the day.
For Scotland, it is a chance to cement their place in the top eight of World Rugby. With France having lost to Argentina at the weekend, Scotland jumped into a place where they will get a World Cup seeding if they can maintain their position for another year.
“I think we can,” maintained Laidlaw. “We have looked at the two Japan games and the three in Autumn as mini-series of five. We have got off to a good start. The games in the autumn are ahead but we have to take care of Japan before then.
“We believe in the squad and the coaches and everybody can see we have moved a long way forward in over a year and we can slowly nudge that up.
“Every time you get to pull on a Scotland jersey, it is a huge honour. This game is massive because, if we win, we can look back on this season as being a fairly good season.
“It is very important to finish on the right note as you always remember your last game.
“We want to come off the field with a win, go home and reassess and be ready for November.”
Despite losing Taylor, Scotland go into the game with a reasonably healthy squad. Most of the remaining walking wounded from last week’s Test were able to take some part in yesterday’s training, while Gordon Reid has now arrived to replace Alasdair Dickinson at prop.
“We were actually in training with Glasgow. We only had a week off and then were were back in training, two and a half weeks training full time,” Reid said of his weekend call-up.
“I was finished at the gym, went down to the beach to see the family and got the phone call to pack my bags and be ready to go.”